Equine reiki master Janet Shettle relaxes a client that she says has improved considerably with the therapy.

Written By Jeffrey Roth, Photos by: Phil Grout

Do you love having a dog, but hate the job of picking up after it?

Professional “pooper-scooper” businesses are raking in revenue nationally, said Lisa Duke, owner/operator of the website MarylandPet. Diversity of products and services is a driving factor behind the proliferation of pet products and pet service-related ventures in Maryland.

The pet industry accounted for $57 billion in sales of pet products and services in the United States in 2011, according to Packaged Facts, published by Rockville, Md.-based That is an increase of about $2 billion from 2010, and industry experts expect the trend to continue in 2012 and 2013.

In addition to traditional pet food products, many consumers are purchasing organic and gourmet products for their pets. Increasingly, pet food sections of supermarkets contain refrigerated, raw, fresh, and organic selections for dogs and cats, Duke said.

There is also rapid growth in the pet service industries, such as pooper-scoopers, doggie daycares, pet camps, pet spas, dog and cat sitters, pet clothing, nutritional supplements for pets, animal communicators, pet-friendly travel destinations – an airline, Pet Airways, which flies from Dulles Airport, exclusively provides customized pet transportation air services – and even reiki, Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation.

“I’ve owned pets my whole life,” said Duke. “I always call my pets my four-legged kids. People spend a fortune on their pets. Within the last 10 years, people have increasingly treated pets as members of the family and that is what a lot of the stores are pushing.”

Although the overall economy has improved moderately during the course of the last four years, it is far from being as robust as it was before the recession. But the pet products and services market as a whole is projected to rise from 2011’s $57 billion to $71.48 billion by 2016, with veterinary and non-medical services sales growing by 5 to 6 percent, compared to a 4 percent expected growth in pet products, the report notes.

“In addition, note that pet ownership rates are lower in Maryland [44 percent of households], than in the U.S. overall [56 percent],” said David Sprinkle, research director for “Pet ownership rates in Maryland dipped sharply during the Great Recession, but are in recovery: falling from 52 percent in 2007, down to 39 percent in 2009, and then moving back up to 44 percent in 2011.”

The commercial pet food industry was born in 1860 in England, when James Spratt invented the first dog biscuit. By 1890, the U.S. commercial pet industry sprouted, and by the early 1900s, consumers began routinely buying commercial pet food.

“Helping fuel the growth, the pet marketplace continues to attract a stream of entrepreneurs and investors introducing new, innovative products,” said Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Association, (APPA). “We are seeing a boom in this category as people continue to work and require services such as pet sitting, boarding and walking to care for their pets at home.”

Advertisements by the national pet store chain, PetSmart, address consumers as “pet parents” not as pet owners. A website called provides information and forums for pet lovers. A national Pet Parent’s Day, sponsored by Veterinary Pet Insurance Co., was held on April 17. It is no coincidence that pet insurance is one of the faster-growing segments of the industry, and is expected grow to $500 million this year.

Vanessa Armstrong of Westminster, owner of We’ve Gone to the Dogs, a doggie daycare, boarding and training business, began working full-time on the enterprise about three years ago. A former veterinary tech, Armstrong has three full-time and two part-time employees to take care of between 10-18 dogs on any given day.

The former owner of a horse farm in Carroll County, Armstrong believes the rapid growth in pet-related services is partly due to a change in lifestyles. More people work full-time, have children involved in various activities and have limited spare time available, but still like having a family dog. For them, doggie daycare provides a safe and fun environment for their dogs, rather than the alternative of leaving the animals home alone for hours on end. The business even hosts an annual Halloween costume party for dogs.

“The custom of leaving a dog chained outside all day has changed,” Armstrong said. “I think people are realizing that dogs are much more sensitive creatures than they were thought to be years ago. I have a lot of couples who don’t have children, and they lavish a lot of love on their pets.”

Pet photography is another example of the diversity within the pet industry. Deb Kachik of Kachik Photography, Westminster, works as a part-time portrait photographer. She specializes in baby, family and pet photography.

“I’ve seen an increase in the dog portraiture business,” she said. “The reason being is that dogs are seen as being an important member of the family. Pet photography is a little less expensive than family portraits, so many people get pet portraits as gifts.”

Complementary medicine, such as reiki, is another service area that has become increasingly accepted as part of animal health care. Monkton resident Janet Shettle explains that reiki is a Japanese therapy technique that directs and manipulates natural energy fields, similar to acupuncture.

“I started out four years ago as a volunteer at Upper Chesapeake Hospital working with cancer patients,” said Shettle. “At the same time, I was volunteering at Equine Rescue and Rehabilitation, a horse-rescue organization in Parkton, and I started reading about animal reiki. I took two courses and began using reiki and incorporating flower essences to work with horses.”

Armstrong noted that hospitals such as University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center and Johns Hopkins have been offering reiki to patients for several years. Reiki for animals is a therapeutic choice for treating a variety of injuries in conjunction with more traditional medical practices.

“As pet owners continue to pamper pets and treat them like members of the family, we see positive growth and a response to consumer demand for more products and services that we expect to see through 2012,” Vetere said. “The service category continues to flourish and is expected to do so in 2012 as well.”

For more information on, visit; for more information on Packaged Facts, visit; for more information on the American Pet Products Association, visit; for more information on We’ve Gone to the Dogs, visit; for more information Kachik Photography, visit; for more information on Pet Parents, visit; and for more information on Janet Shettle Reiki, visit